US believes China appears to have suspended spy balloon program following February shootdown
China seems to have suspended its surveillance balloon program following a major diplomatic incident earlier this year, media reports said.
US officials believe that Chinese leaders have made a deliberate decision not to launch additional balloons since the one over the US was shot down by American fighter jets in February, multiple sources familiar with US intelligence assessments told CNN.
The US government has not recorded any such launches since the previous episode occurred.
The apparent suspension of the program comes as both the US and China have sought to stabilize an increasingly tense relationship, reports CNN.
Asked for comment on the balloon program, Chinese embassy spokesperson Liu Pengyu told CNN that the February episode was “unexpected” and “isolated.”
“Since the incident happened, China has stated repeatedly that the balloon is found to be an unmanned civilian airship used for meteorological and other research purposes, and that its accidental entry into US airspace is entirely an unexpected, isolated incident caused by force majeure,” Liu said. “The facts are clear and shall not be distorted or misrepresented. We hope relevant parties can stop hyping up on this.”
The US intelligence community believes that Chinese Communist Party leaders did not intend for the balloon to cross over the United States, and even reprimanded the operators of the surveillance program over the incident, one of the sources told CNN.